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Clinical assessment of human gustatory function using event related potentials
  1. Thomas Hummel1,
  2. Alexandra Genow1,
  3. Basile Nicolas Landis1,2
  1. 1Smell and Taste Clinic, Department of Otorhinolaryngology, University of Dresden Medical School (‘Technische Universität Dresden’), Dresden, Germany
  2. 2Rhinology–Olfactology Unit, Department of Otorhinolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, Geneva Medical School and Geneva University Hospitals, Geneva, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Professor T Hummel, Smell and Taste Clinic, Department of Otorhinolaryngology, University of Dresden Medical School (‘Technische Universität Dresden’), Fetscherstrasse 74, 01307 Dresden, Germany; thummel{at}


Gustatory event related potentials (ERP) were developed more than a decade ago. Although the first studies were highly promising, no clinical routine application has yet been reported. The aim of the study was to use gustatory ERP in a clinical setting and to investigate gender related differences, concentration dependency and their test–retest reliability. The question of whether investigations in patients with documented taste disorders provide meaningful results was addressed. 17 healthy volunteers participated in two sessions. Acetic acid was presented to the left or right portion of the tongue; stimuli were embedded in a constantly flowing air stream. Subjects rated the stimulus intensity using visual analogue scales. Lateralised sour thresholds were established by means of a psychophysical taste test. ERP amplitude P1 was largest at frontocentral recording sites while amplitude P2 had a parietal maximum. Women had shorter response latencies than men. Concentration related differences were found for amplitudes P2 and for latencies P1 and N1. Shorter ERP response latencies were seen for stimulation of the right compared with the left side. Test–retest reliability was highest for the higher stimulus concentration, and highest coefficients of correlation were found for latencies of ERP peaks P1 and N1. Preliminary investigations in a patient with hemiageusia indicated the usefulness of gustatory ERP in the diagnostic process, especially with regard to medicolegal cases. In conclusion, the present work shows that gustatory ERP provide a relatively unbiased, reliable and easy approach to objective assessment of human taste function.

  • Event-related potentials
  • smell

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  • Funding The research was partly supported by NIDCD grant PO1 00161, NIH, to Richard L Doty and a grant from the University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation to TH. BNL was supported by a grant from the Swiss National Fund for Scientific Research (SSMBS grant No PASMA-119579/1).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.